Secrets from a Script Reader: Everyone Has an Opinion


A question I’ve been asked over my years as a story analyst (aka script reader) that’s popped up again recently is if my own personal opinions get in the way of the coverage I write or if my personal preferences dictate what I read. The answer is yes and no. I’ll explain.

First and foremost, script readers don’t get to choose what we read. We read whatever screenplays need reading, plain and simple. However, I’ve worked with companies that do want to know what I like to read and what I’m a fan of, because that means I’ll have a certain perspective on a screenplay or story that others won’t have.

For example, if I enjoy sci-fi (and I do), chances are I’ve seen quite a few sci-fi films and TV shows and read quite a few sci-fi scripts and books. Someone that isn’t a fan won’t be as knowledgeable about the genre. As a story analyst, I can inform the production company in my coverage if a sci-fi script they’re considering is too much like a known movie/show/book, if it’s something refreshing and original for the genre, if it falls in line with tropes frequent in the genre, and it also means that I, the reader, am the audience for the possible film.

The first audience for your script is the reader. It’s a huge advantage if the actual audience the producer wants to reach with the film is reading the screenplay, and so reader opinions can offer valuable insight.

The majority of script reading is straight up story analysis – how do the core elements of the screenplay add up, and are they effectively executed? However, there is a part of coverage that is opinion based, because, in the end, the film’s audience will always have an opinion. When it comes to films and television, everyone has a personal preference. A story analyst has his or her own, too, and the best readers don’t let that get in the way of the screenplay analysis, but rather help to inform the production company about what might be going on in a script based on what he or she knows about the genre.

I tend to write fantasy and sci-fi. Those are my favorite genres to read and watch. When I have a reader take a look at my script, I always want to know if the genre is one that the reader likes personally. That means I’m getting an opinion from my target audience. That’s also my producer brain at work. The more I can get thoughts from my target audience, the better I can know how it will play with them.

You might ask, what if a reader that’s not a fan of the genre or kind of script I’ve written reads my script? Don’t be discouraged. This can be a plus for you, too. Fans can be more forgiving of your script if they love the genre. They might be more willing to overlook certain issues, because maybe they just love the awesome dragon in your script. It can also go the other way. Some fans can be very discerning and overly critical because of their volume of knowledge in a genre.

If a reader is not a fan of the genre, he or she won’t be distracted by any of that in their analysis. The focus is on the core elements of the script. Whether or not a reader has a personal opinion about your script, it is still advantageous to receive their coverage, as long as it’s a skilled reader.

I recently had an experience where it was obvious from page one that the writer wrote their story to advocate a conservative viewpoint. It was clear the writer had strong feelings about any lifestyle outside of a faith-based one. This came across in the way he described the characters and the message the story sent. Nothing is wrong with advocating personal thoughts and opinions through a script, but what occurred with this particular screenplay is that it affected how the writer developed the characters. Several were one-dimensional, because the writer was in judgment of them.

I give you this example, because I’m not a conservative. The way this plays into the coverage is not in my personal opinions about what was written, but it’s valuable for the production company to know how the story comes across. Everyone outside of the writer is the audience. The story is for the audience. If there is any part of the audience that will not like the story, be offended by it, insulted by it, or alienated by it, then the producer needs to know. They’re looking for the reader to help them understand who the target audience is, as well as who that isn’t.

This plays into distribution and marketing decisions. It also affects the notes that are offered on a script so that the next revision might better fit a company or network’s target audience.

There are stories for everyone out there, no matter their opinions, preferences, or beliefs. All of us can think of a blockbuster film or hit show that we just don’t get why so many people like it. Some will resonate with you and some won’t, just like some will personally resonate with the reader and some won’t. On the surface, it can seem unfair to the screenwriter for a reader’s opinion to be part of the coverage, but it doesn’t mean that it puts a script or writer at a disadvantage.